We are honored, humbled, elated, and energized to celebrate our first anniversary of publishing #ActivistHistory today. None of this would have been possible without you, our wonderful readers and contributors. Your demand that we live in an equitable society grounded in a sound understanding of the ways historic inequalities continue to shape the present gives us hope for a brighter future. Thank you!
Below, several of our editors offer short reflections on their favorite articles and their relationship to activist history. We hope you enjoy!
I’m grateful to have worked with a number of our contributors over the last year. This makes it difficult to choose a favorite. I’m especially proud of the great work we’ve hosted on poverty, white supremacy, and sexual assault. I think if pressed, though, I’d have to say Anthony Bayani Rodriguez’s “Food Insecurity & the Revolutionary Democracy of Urban Food Sovereignty” would top the list. It outlines how learning urban history — especially redlining, white flight, and policing tactics — should shape how we view contemporary urban landscapes. Rodriguez’s essay focuses specifically on Baltimore and demonstrates the poverty-inducing legacies of these vestiges of state-sponsored white supremacy. He takes a close look at the Tubman House, a contemporary urban resistance movement, and outlines the ways that we can fight racial capitalism in our communities by taking ownership of foodways and rejecting rentism and other systems of exchange rooted in racialized exploitation. In his words, “community organizers scattered throughout the country recognize that the creation of places like Tubman House represent small but critical steps towards developing locally driven food economies that can transform neighborhoods like Sandtown-Winchester for the long term.” He pairs a powerful message with concrete steps each of us can take to mitigate the damage of American racial capitalism. It is, for me, the very essence of activist history.
There are so many articles from The Activist History Review that I have found compelling, or enjoyable, or intellectually rewarding that I can’t pick just one. The articles included in the “marginalized voices in academia” series in August were all three of those things and more. Dr. Adrienne Keene’s piece “On Loneliness and the Reason Why” was particularly meaningful for me as both an editor and reader, and everyone should check out Dr. Keene’s “Native Appropriations” blog here. In her article, Dr. Keene details the unique challenges faced by Native students in academia, as well as the role she envisions for herself as a Native scholar in facilitating the growth of those students. The other pieces in that series (by ArCasia James, Rohail Salman, and an anonymous contributor) were similarly impactful for me. Their accounts of their experiences in academia are a stark reminder that the communities we’ve created as scholars are not immune to the forces we protest as the members of national and global societies. Aside from the “marginalized voices” series, I also enjoyed our roundtable on conservative author David Barton’s distortion of the past, an especially important read in an era that promises to be a daily assault on our understanding of historical and contemporary truth. Finally, it was a distinct pleasure for me that TAHR hosted an article by the “New Activists on the Block,” a group of local activists in Morgantown, West Virginia, looking back on the first year since Donald Trump’s election. I moved to Morgantown two years ago, and if the 2016 election and its aftermath have taught me anything, it’s that our best hope for change lies in the communities we create together. It’s good to know that there are plenty of other people in my community that feel the same way.
Although I am a fairly new addition to The Activist History Review editorial board, I’ve been an avid reader since its beginning. As much as I believe in the contemporary relevance of historical scholarship, the act of constructing that scholarship can be lonely and difficult work. Throughout 2017, the community of diverse voices at TAHR has been a means of connecting this work to the current political moment in varied and important ways. The many local history and activism pieces invite us to take history outside of the classroom and into our community. But I think it may be Dr. Ben Railton’s article, written after the deadly events in Charlottesville, that has stuck with me the most. Railton connects his own childhood in Charlottesville with its history of segregation and the recent Unite the Right rally. Despite efforts to portray white supremacist protestors as outsiders, Railton shows that Confederate statues and prison-like schools mean that “the city’s younger residents of color live in and around spaces that echo, reflect, and even embody those histories of racial segregation and white supremacy.” In asking us to consider the ways in which the legacy of white supremacy lives on within our communal spaces, Railton shows that the story of this ideology is the story of America. I am so excited to be part of this effort to reconcile that heritage.
Wading through the dozens of outstanding articles and searching for a “favorite” was an unenviable task. I cannot agree more with the rest of the editorial staff in saying that we have been honored to publish some truly outstanding work over the past year. Like Nathan, I was greatly inspired by the Marginalized Voices in Academia Series, which stressed the need for greater inclusivity in a field still largely dominated by white men. I am also very fond of the many locally minded histories we’ve featured. Dr. Ben Railton’s “Segregated Cville,” Matt Sparks’ “The Unsettling of Appalachia” (both mentioned already by other editors), Dr. Ansley Quiros’ “The Road to Charlottesville Runs Through Americus, Georgia,” and Dr. Tiffany G.B. Packer’s “White Supremacist Violence from Greensboro to Charlottesville” all demonstrate the importance of small communities in defining the national tenor.
I was particularly fond of Professor Matthew Mace Barbee’s “White Supremacy and the Landscapes of Memory in Richmond.” Barbee examines the history of “Richmond Forward,” an all-white entrepreneurial organization whose goal was to expand celebrations of the Confederacy on “Monument Avenue.” They tied this emphasis on Richmond’s Confederate past to their effort to keep Virginia’s capital majority white. It should remind us all of the intersections between urban politics, wealth concentration, and white supremacy. More importantly, his article (like Douglas McRae’s “Monuments and Power in Urban Spaces” and David S. Rotenstein’s “No Country for Johnny Reb or Bobby Lee”) serves as a reminder, for everyone who needs one, that a statue is never just a statue.
I would be remiss not to point out the amazing pieces brought to us by activists on both a local and national stage. Aristotle Jones, Mara Caelin, and Adelle Bergman – just to name a few – all deserve special mention for getting us to think about how to move forward and ways to make a change. If I could keep linking to articles, I would. Suffice it to say that I think every one of our issues is worth reading.
Cory James Young
I would be remiss not to highlight the stellar work of my fellow editors this past year. I am particularly enamored with Nathan’s autobiographical reflection on the obstacles he faces as a scholar with a disability, which is a model of accessible prose, and Andreas’ breathtaking article on police brutality in postwar New York, which demonstrates the power that activist scholarship has to bring fresh histories to light. If I had to select a single piece to highlight this past year, however, it would have to be Matthew Sparks’ “The Unsettling of Appalachia.” What began as a solicited review of NPR’s S-Town podcast (go listen to that, by the way) blossomed into sobering meditation on how regional identity—rooted in an oft-forgotten history of labor solidarity—responds to economic decline. “Appalachia is a region too politicized to romanticize,” Sparks laments, “though the region could definitely use some romance.” He demonstrates how historical actors from inside and outside the region are accountable for the impoverished state of Appalachia today. While he grounds his analysis in the past, Spark’s essay is ultimately one part poetry and one part call to arms; it shines in the muck. I eagerly await the earnest and activist histories that I know I will encounter in 2018.